How to Try to Meditate

I’ve been trying to meditate for a year now. “Trying” means that once in awhile, I spend ten minutes with my eyes closed, and then annoy friends and family by insisting that I’ve reached Nirvana (you’re not allowed to do it if you don’t brag about it).

There was a time when I was doing it daily, and I felt a difference. But it’s subtle. It’s as imperceptible as a sugar high; you might be buzzing, but you don’t really notice until you come down, and the mild irritation hits.

And that’s a bit like what meditation is like; you notice when you don’t do it, not when you do. And that really sucks, because it’s difficult to convince yourself to do anything regularly, let alone something that you can barely register.

It’s only ten or fifteen minutes a day, and everybody has time for that. That’s a YouTube video. That’s a masturbation session. That’s a scroll through a timeline, a procrastination, a daydream.

But it’s just so much easier to do those things than it is to sit with your eyes closed and concentrate on your breath. Your breath is pretty damn boring, and like everyone else, I’m used to being constantly entertained; I could be spending those precious minutes watching some dick on YouTube desperately trying to change my political views through articulate misinformation, reading about how Trump’s tweets physically tore a hole in the ozone layer, or contributing to the pointless democracy of Reddit and Facebook with my “likes.”  

I slowly slipped out of the habit, the way you carelessly slip out of any healthy activity, and now I meditate “once in awhile.” Whenever that is.

Irregular practice of an activity often means failure, even if you enjoy said activity. Without scheduled sessions, my meditation attempts are easily disrupted by mild inconveniences. I attempted to meditate the other day, hoping to clear my notification-obsessed mind during an unsatisfying writing session.

I sat in the living room, setting a timer for an ambitious fifteen minutes. All I could hear was the steady tick-tock of the clock, and I spent the first few minutes with my blood pressure slowly rising, unable to think about anything but dismantling that clock. It took every ounce of self-control I had to stop myself from removing the batteries, but eventually, I got over it. I stopped hearing the clock, and settled into deep breathing.  

Then my cat found me. My cat is like a sexual opportunist at a house party; he’s excellent at spotting weakness, and will seize any opportunity to trap an unsuspecting victim into a heavy petting session.

I focused on breathing slowly, in, and out, while my cat furiously massaged himself against my unmoving hand. I believe that if I dropped down dead on the floor, he would spend several days rubbing his face against my cold, unfeeling fingers.

In desperation, I got up, and put some wet food in his bowl, out of schedule, just to distract him during my remaining eleven minutes. But have you ever heard a cat eat wet food before?

While I sat trying to regain my concentration, the slurpy smacking sound resonated from the bowl as though it were playing through a speaker beside my ear.

It sounded like a sea snail performing cunnilingus on a particularly slimy jellyfish, with great relish. And it takes him at least forty minutes to finish a can, because he licks it off one molecular layer at a time.

Haunted by the sound, and distressing mental imagery, I gave in. But the defeat sparked a flash of insight.

Because every time I feed my cat, I ring a little dinner bell first, so that he knows not to beg for food until he hears the bell. I do it so that he doesn’t wake me up at 3am asking for snacks (which he still very much does). But I figured Pavlov’s Bell applies to humans too.  

And I happen to have a pair of tingsha bells in my office, because I am, at heart, a white stoner who fetishizes Eastern belief systems. The bells are some kind of meditation aid, but I found my own use for them by ringing them just before I meditate.

And so far, it’s actually working. The sound triggers a little thing in my brain that takes away the urge to go do something else. Once I’ve rung them, I simply have to sit down and breathe slowly.

Now all I have to do, is convince myself to ring it more often.

A Tribute to Leo

My cat died yesterday. I no longer live with him but I can’t help feeling somewhat devastated at the loss of the interspecies family member. Leo may have been a spoilt, cantankerous asshole but he had a strength of personality that was impossible not to admire.

A bit of a difficult pet, Leo fancied himself as a gourmet and buying a new, untested brand of cat food was truly a humbling ordeal. With bated breath, I would watch him carefully inhale the air inside the bowl, as though at a wine tasting. If approved, he would devour it in under a minute. If disapproved, he would turn and “bury” it, scratching the floor with his hind legs as though covering the food with soil, like one of his foul-smelling shits. After the ceremonial burial, he would let out a hideous shriek, unbearably shrill and piercing, like a banshee being gang-raped. The shrieks would continue infinitely, without pause for breath, until a higher-quality product was offered.

He viewed my mother as his personal chef, my youngest brother as his best friend, and regarded the rest of us with varying degrees of suspicion. My relationship with him would teeter on a knife edge between friend and foe, due to my habit of chasing him around the house without warning. Undoubtedly he believed I was some sort of unhinged psychopath. He tolerated my presence only because I fed him occasionally. My elder sister, however, was not to be trusted.

Being a foul-tempered loner, Leo alone decreed who could touch him and when, yet my sister displayed an unshakeable dedication to the pursuit of his love. She would often bribe him with snacks from the dinner table or sit and comb him for hours on end, only to be rewarded with a vicious bite. He would keep a vigilant eye in her presence, ever prepared to be snatched into a non-consensual cuddle. Eventually, she learned to creep up on him when asleep and bundle him in her ams, barely conscious, stealing him away to her bedroom and locking the door.

An unapologetic hedonist, Leo was a big fan of catnip and was always deeply unsatisfied with the portion offered to him. Somehow, he would invariably manage to obtain the full bag and tear it open, spending the night rolling around for hours in hallucinogenic ecstasy. We’d find him lying there in the morning, comatose and coming down, presumably regretting his poor life choices. Once, I playfully stole a catnip toy from his mouth and received an alarmingly deep cut at lightning speed, that spurted blood down my wrist like a clumsy suicide attempt. I didn’t even see his paw move. In that moment I realized that he’d actually been holding back on every previous attack and left the encounter feeling grateful for his leniency.

Leo may have had little patience but he certainly didn’t lack empathy. When my mother became life-threateningly ill, Leo ensured he was a constant, purring presence by her bedside. Apparently, a cat’s purr consists of some kind of magical healing vibrations, a power Leo was perhaps aware of.

My youngest brother, Leo’s chosen favorite, was constantly assaulted with demands to be petted and cuddled. Their relationship was totally exclusive, and up until his dying day, adorable.

Like many cats, Leo was the true master of his household, looking down upon his loyal subjects with deep contempt and occasional sympathy. I’ll always regard his gluttony, his profoundly selfish approach to life as something of an inspiration in how to live honestly. Sometimes, we’re just not in the mood to be petted.